How a Community’s Rediscovery of Christ Leads to Truly Christian Innovation.

 This week in the newspaper there was a discussion of the Apple Corporation’s problems. Where is the ‘next innovation’ coming from for them? Business is cruel. Remember Nokia? Remember Blackberry? Both phone manufacturers who hitched their stars to technologies that were outmoded. And the companies were outmoded too! Like Kodak which was meant to be in the business of creating memories, but was too much in the business of making film.

I can’t remember how many times I written about the process of the Church’s processes of renewal, using these lessons from business as a wake up call to remind us that unless we are innovating, we are going backwards.

The thing that struck me about the newspaper column was that it quoted a Nokia executive’s view that ‘Innovation is not a spirit. It’s not some incantation or magical power. Innovation is a process involving tens of thousands of people over many years. Innovation can influence creation, invention or novel ideas, but innovation is a system.’

This sounds surprisingly familiar, since the motto of the Reformation is ‘The Church is always Reforming’ (Ecclesia semper reformanda).

But reforming about what? In our Luther studies, we read that Luther did not want to reform the Church by attending to the abuses of the Church and what was wrong with it. Thee were plenty of people doing that. Instead, he attended to the question of how our relationship with God goes, and the rest will look after itself. In true Lutheran fashion, Bonhoeffer asked the question in the war years ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?’ Later on David Bently Hart says much the same thing ‘..only if the form of Christ can be lived out in the community of the Church is the confession of the Church true; only if Christ can be practiced is Jesus Lord. Renewal in the Church is a question of the renewal of our relationship with Christ.

That is why we have been attending to our experimental Sundays on the fourth Sunday each month. The aim of these days is not just to fiddle with things, but to try to draw our attention to how our relationship with God is brought into being by our participation in the Eucharist. By focusing on one aspect of it each time, I hope what our conscious devotion and participation in it will be deepened.

This is why I also invite people to renew their faith as adults, who have been Christians for a long time. The process of continuing engagement with Christ describes the process of being a Christian and the process of renewal.

But the Church is not like business in that we are not dominated by the need for worldly success. We are not servants of the market, but of Christ. There are places like Hill Song and Pentecostal Churches that seem to be doing better than us in the ‘market’ of young people, and there are a few very conservative Churches that are doing better than us in the market of older, conservative people. They too would say that they are being servants of Christ. Our job here is to show forth the vibrancy and the life of Christ, with our gifts, and in our particular, Anglican way. I am sure that that will communicate.

That is why I also place a great deal of emphasis on baptism and the renewal of baptismal vows, four times a year. In the same edition of the newspaper that carried the article on innovation, Giles Fraser wrote his piece about the Church in Stockholm. There Church attendance is rapidly declining (2% of the population goes). But the churches are wonderfully maintained by the church tax. Giles Fraser says ‘The gilded opulence of the Storkyrkan (cathedral) with its front pews reserved for the royal family, tells of a cosy relationship between Church and state…It is notable that the only thing about this beautiful museum of a Church that needs fixing is its broken font, tucked away down a side aisle.’  Being baptized means knowing how to die, and to be re-cooked into new life. That too is the process of innovation.  Places that do not have an emphasis on baptism become clubs for like minded individuals, because they do not know how to be changed from glory into glory.

And we are not dominated by this world, or the world of the past, but by the images of the world to come. It is the heavenly Jerusalem which is our home. This picture has been fixed, in principle, by Christ’s resurrection. How we are has to be an anticipation of how we think the world looks when it has been redeemed by Christ. This is not the same as recreating the way it was. It is a matter of looking to the future, and being captured by a vision of what that might mean for us, and then acting to anticipate it.

As an example of how this might work, let me tell you about a conversation I have been having about the processes of renovation of our building. You know, that we are steadily raising money and making application for funding in order to complete the process of renovation of our building. When I first came here, we had some conversations with the architect about our entrance. I would like it to be a welcoming entrance, that made it easy for people who were not yet members of the congregation to come in. The architect has some plans about how we can do that using glass and simplifying the entrance and the use of lighting.   But there is also the question of how we renovate the Lady Chapel and the other features of the Church, once a person has entered.  I would like it if we made it a priority of our next phase of renovation to attend to the entrance. I see part of the heavenly Jerusalem as being a place where getting in is not too difficult or daunting for those who want to explore it.

We (the Chaplaincy Council and me) are also thinking about how our music ministry might serve this process of innovation, and anticipating the new Jerusalem, but asking ourselves’ What does it mean to serve Christ, here and now, with our music.’

So there you have it. Innovation is as much a part of the true Church’s DNA as it is of business. But innovation is not just about one person, but about us all getting n board with the process of being continually renewed in Christ.

Your companion ‘On the Way’ and Priest


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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